It’s funny the way the world works. I often find that I have themes or lessons that follow me around for a few days or until something has been learnt.
When I left London almost two years ago, I left the bulk of my classes in the very capable hands of a lovely teacher friend. There was always a hope on my part that I might come back one day, but as the months turned into years, this became less and less likely. When I came back to London for summer at the end of July, it coincided perfectly with Billie going on maternity leave, and so I find myself back in my old life, teaching old classes to old (and some new) students.
It has been a genuine joy to reconnect with people and see how their lives have changed and progressed. A few of them are even on the way to becoming teachers themselves now. One such person used to run some kind of horrendous body balance class next to mine each week and every Wednesday without fail, just as I was winding down for savasana, he was winding up with his mega techno beats to some super hard core, sweat drenched finale. He was, is such a lovely guy and always had time to say hello (and apologise profusely for the noise) after class.
So on a funny day back in my old life last week I bumped in to him and he was telling me all about his yoga teacher training and how excited he was to become a teacher. He told me that when he met me, he had never thought about doing yoga, but my calmness and openness in those 2 minute interactions each week inspired him to find out what it was that made me that way and his journey into yoga began.
He asked me what was the one thing that was more important than any other when becoming a teacher and then proceeded to try and answer his own question – was it self practice, planning, study, experience? The place where you trained or who your own teachers were? I waited for him to talk himself out because in the funny way the world works, I knew exactly what I wanted to say – I had written it on a piece of paper at the end of class the night before.
This is not a blog post where I tell you how virtuous I am and how good I am at living my yoga. Believe me when I say I fail all the time at being the calm, serene, kind person I would like to be.
But the day before he asked me the question, I had re learnt a powerful old lesson and I like the way that my life works in themes and patterns.
I have a student – let’s call him James. He is my most challenging student. He is one of the most disconnected-to-his-body people I have ever met and despite the fact that he is a lawyer and obviously academically intelligent, he literally cannot find his nose with his finger. He has zero strength, balance, coordination and when I first met him could barely differentiate between an inhale and exhale. James came to yoga because of an old disc injury and subsequent chronic back pain. When I first started teaching him in was always in a group of five or six so it was impossible to give him all the attention he needed. I did what I could – watched for danger and often just let him get on with what he thought was the right thing to do, advising him go slowly, listen to his body and to work in a way that wouldn’t take him in to pain.
Through a series of events I ended up with him first of all in a semi private class. When it was only him and one other, I was able to help him understand the importance of the breath and once he got the hang of it, he breathed well. I started to worry a bit less because I believe the breath is the beginning of being able to really connect and I felt instinctively that if he was breathing well, that his body would work a bit better, even if only on a subconscious level. I still found him hard to work with and sometimes had an almost aversion to him being in class, I would secretly hope that he wouldn’t turn up some weeks (see – a typical failing of compassion and generosity!)
And then I ended up with him all on his own, and I got to know him, and I got to understand his body and his injury and I started to realised that I had some tools that may be able to help him. I tried to find some compassion and empathy towards him and I realised that he is just a man in pain, trying to help himself – and the very best gift I could give would be to help him.
So we began. From the beginning. We worked on the core muscles – what they do, how they work, why they are important for stabilising back pain. We returned to the breath and refined it and deepened it and understood that it is a vital part of accessing muscle movement – especially muscles that are so tight and locked that they barely move when trying to get into a traditional asana.
And then we tried a sun salutation. And I tried to get him to take responsibility and learn sun salutation A well enough that he could take it home and practice on his own. After the first 60 minute class of doing nothing but sun salute A, he still couldn’t remember how to get passed the first uttanasana, but I sent him off with a drawing and some you tube ideas and I told him to practice and do you know what? He did. He came back the following week and even though what he was doing looked nothing like a sun salutation – he had changed. He was engaged. The next week his movement started to flow. The next week he could get through the whole sequence. This week he had movement, breath, sequence, mind all working together. But more, he has lost weight, his face is bright, he is no longer in pain, he understands that yoga can help him, or that by continuing to do yoga he can help himself. He is empowered because he is no longer dependent on physios and painkillers to get out of bed each day and he has achieved a goal that many, many yogis struggle with every day – a daily self practice.
We added warriors, triangles, back bends and his body was able to follow instruction. The poses are looking like poses and I couldn’t be happier that he has found something that works for him. I have found a love and compassion for him that wasn’t previously there and in the process he has taught me about me.
So when he was in savasana and I was thinking about the little journey we have been on together, I wrote the words above on a piece of paper and I went home on the bus thinking that this teaching lark is actually pretty easy – when we act from love, compassion – from the heart, it flows. People progress and we learn together. A few months ago when James turned up to learn, my heart literally sank. From that position, I didn’t want to have to do the work to get him where he needed to be. And I had to make a decision – to stop teaching him or to change myself. So that’s what I tried to do – I changed. I lifted and opened my heart and realised that with kindness and patience I could give him more than a yoga class, I could help him to discover tools that could enhance his life. And when I changed – he changed too. When I invested some time and patience in him he rewarded me by engaging and beginning his own self practice and then I wrote it down on a piece of paper and the very next day someone asked me what was already written.
As teachers we are often put on pedestals by our students, and we are very often guilty of holding ourselves to impossibly high standards. We are just people, doing our best and we get it wrong all the time- every day sometimes. But sometimes we get it right too, and that’s why I am here 7 years later, still loving every minute I get to call myself a yoga teacher
What we give, we receive.
Mariza Yoga Teacher Training, Chamonix September 2015